We like short names and tall features, and Jetway is usually a primary candidate for value seekers. Anyone unfamiliar with the company’s long history wouldn’t know that its most historically-significant products were probably the ones re-branded by a certain large graphics firm, but any technology company able to hold its market for 22-years must be doing something right. While we haven’t seen the HI04 hit Web vendors yet, its own-brand pricing history has been consistent enough for us to peg its new HI04 at around $140 from one of the big-three discount Web vendors.
The first thing casual observers will notice about the HI04 is its large, twin semi-circular northbridge sinks, which are reminiscent of competitor MSI’s former circular design. The more experienced builders will also notice that this “budget brand” model is packed with features such as onboard digital audio connectors, eSATA ports, electronic dual-graphics mode switching, and a POST code display.
That is to say, Jetway tries to provide the best of every manufacturer in its price range. For example, the electronic PCI Express selectors, which automatically change the slots from a single-graphics x16 mode to dual x8 modes when a second card is installed, is only found on one of three competing sub-$150 models in today’s comparison. The use of reliability-enhancing solid capacitors in all locations is found on two completely different models. And while only one of the sub-$150 competitors offers twin eSATA ports, the rear-panel digital audio ports are only offered by a completely different competitor.
Like the best of its competitors, Jetway puts its eight-pin and 24-pin ATX/EPS power connectors almost ideally in the rearward-top and upper-front edges, and spaces its two PCI Express x16 slots three rows apart for better card cooling. But Jetway goes a little farther than any of its direct competitors in VRM design and cooling, with a six-phase voltage regulator tied to an elaborate heat-pipe assembly.
That’s not to say the HI04 layout is perfect, however, as it also has some of its competitor’s worst traits. For example, the floppy and Ultra ATA headers are still at the bottom edge, even if they aren’t tucked away under the PCI slot. And the front-panel audio connector is just far enough from the bottom edge that it can’t properly be reached by cables routed under or over the board. Furthermore, while most of the slots the HI04 has are well placed, the top slot position is occupied by an auxiliary power connector rather than an x1 slot. Since most users won’t or can’t use the slot directly beneath the primary graphics card, it would have been nice to see it placed where the auxiliary power connector resides.
The Jetway HI04 is the only sub-$150 motherboard in today’s comparison that doesn’t have socketed BIOS. That means hot flashing isn’t an option for BIOS modders, and a bad flash would require sending the entire motherboard to the factory for warranty replacement. Though a bad flash isn’t a common problem, we’ve all been stuck with it a few times.
It’s nice to see that Jetway provides three USB 2.0 headers internally to support up to six front-panel USB ports or devices, but the six Serial ATA connectors next to them face forward, which can conflict with the lower hard drive cage of many ATX tower cases. Had the headers faced upwards, they would have been blocked by graphics cards. The only perfect solution would be to move them, but that’s easier said than done.
Reset, power, and CLR_CMOS buttons above the Serial ATA ports are handy for bench testing, while the two-digit POST code display helps overclockers determine what limitations they might have exceeded. Jetway also provides parallel and serial port headers nearby for anyone who needs them and can still find a standard breakout cable set.